Town Meeting

Ordinance requiring permit for music, dancing defeated

By Stephanie Grinnell | Apr 11, 2018
Photo by: Stephanie Grinnell Searsmont Town Clerk Kathy Hoey makes a last call for ballots during the annual town meeting April 7.

Searsmont — Residents turned out in force at the annual town meeting to address a series of ordinance changes proposed by selectmen, including a Special Amusement Ordinance some say targeted Thresher's Brewing.

The meeting began on a somber note, as selectmen broke the news that long-time moderator Lee Woodward had been hospitalized. First Selectman Bruce Brierley said he had an appointment with Woodward earlier in the week and was waiting when another client emerged from the office and said Woodward seemed to be ill. Entering the attorney's Belfast office, Brierley said he discovered Woodward slumped over the table with no pulse. Ambulance personnel were able to use a defibrillator to get his heart beating again and Woodward was taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center, Brierley said, where he remained April 7.

Standing in for Woodward, moderator Walt Whitcomb accepted a motion to address the last four warrant articles first, which prevailed with a 67-31 vote. Each proposed ordinance amendments or new ordinances.

Residents voted against adopting changes to the Board of Appeals ordinance — article 34 — that would have allowed selectmen to chose members rather than townpeople electing members.

Article 35 drew an initial motion to dismiss, which was seconded. In the discussion that followed, residents questioned the need for the Special Amusement Ordinance and accused selectmen of targeting a specific business without basis.

“Speaking as myself, I only have one objection to the brewery,” Brierley said. “It's the noise portion … We've had objections to the noise; we've had complaints.”

When pressed, he said the town received one written complaint. Others verbally complained, Brierley said, but didn't wish to put their complaints in writing.

“If you don't feel strongly enough to put it in writing, you don't feel strongly enough,” one resident said.

Several neighbors of the brewery, located in Come Spring Business Park in the village, said they can't hear the music during outside events. Residents pointed out there is no existing noise ordinance in town; nor is there anyone to enforce it.

“I don't think the Sheriff's Office is going to come out and check decibels,” one man said. Another added, “A rifle shot is a lot louder than a band and nobody complains about sighting in (guns as hunting season approaches).”

One woman said the ordinance would have a negative effect on Thresher's, where many local people work.

“I think if it passes, we will lose the business,” she said.

Others took issue with the restrictions included in the proposed ordinance, including “any dancing,” with some making reference to the cult classic “Footloose.”

“This is so limiting,” one woman said. “Is this what you want for your town? Think about what you want your town to be known as.”

With a show of hands, residents voted to dismiss article 35.

The next item proposed a new Local Food Ordinance. After receiving reassurances eggs are not considered poultry products and sale of goods at a farmer's market in town, if it were re-established, would still be allowed, residents accepted it.

Changes to the existing Land Use Ordinance also were accepted. While copies of the 197-page ordinance were not available at the meeting, a summary of changes was provided and explained during the meeting. Some updates include making the code enforcement officer the first point of contact rather than the Planning Board clerk for certain applications; updating Shoreland Zoning to match 2015 state revisions; and clarifying the boundary of the Village Core District.

An amendment to reduce Planning Board size from seven members to five failed. The change was suggested by selectmen and Brierley said the higher number “does not lead to an easier path to making decisions. A smaller number would be more effective and timely.”

Residents objected to the change and said it is not the number of people slowing the process, but specific applications. Also, voters said more members offer a broader perspective and range of experience.

“One of the uniqueness about small towns is you still have a voice,” one woman said. “I'm of the opinion more voices are better.”

The municipal budget was approved; the only change being the addition of $100 for Maine Public Radio/Television/Online under social services. No funding had been recommended for the nonprofit in the budget. The approved budget does not exceed the state's LD 1 spending cap.

When it came to approving the sale of the existing firehouse and/or firehouse/sand shed complex and associated land, one resident questioned why the money should be used toward construction of the new fire station. She said she was under the impression from reading news reports that fundraising already has been completed. However, the fundraising process is just beginning, according to those involved. Town Clerk Kathy Hoey said a vote last spring authorized the town to spend $1 million in TIF funds and noted there are several thousands set aside in savings.

A firefighter said he hoped sale of the existing station might result in money to purchase a new rescue truck instead of being spent on construction. Hoey said after all of the fundraisers, it's possible there will be money left that could be used toward a new truck without depleting the capital reserve account set aside for that purpose.

Brierley said the town intends to retain ownership of the sand shed for now. The .7-acre lot the sand shed and fire station sit upon falls under Shoreland Zoning and “there would be hoops we have to jump through to sell it.”

Residents authorized selectmen to procede with selling the station. As well, the gift of 1.4 acres of land for construction of the new firehouse was accepted.

Concerns about taking town ownership of Walker Road Extension revolved around maintenance costs and the number of year-round residents who would benefit. Brierley said estimates he received total between $7,000 and $8,000 per year. There is one year-round resident. Some wondered if a subdivision was being planned but no answer was provided.

Fire Chief James Ames pointed out the department is required to respond when called but if the property can't be accessed and is damaged, the town is not liable. He said many camp roads are not accessible in the winter for large firefighting apparatus.

Those in favor of adopting Walker Road Extension as a town road said part of it is maintained by the town already, so the expected costs would not increase as much. Brierley said some improvements to the road are needed.

Residents ultimately approved accepting ownership of the road.

For the third year in a row, residents attempted to amend an article allowing selectmen to sell real estate acquired by the town. This year, it was suggested the phrase “to the highest bidder” be inserted but the amendment failed. Brierley said each property and bid process has its own circumstances to consider; his thoughts were echoed by a handful of residents.

“I don't think it's all about the money,” one woman said. “There are people with money I would hate to see come here.”

“This isn't a homeowners association, it's a town, so whoever has the money (can purchase property),” another resident argued.

After the amendment failed, the original article was approved.

Voters also agreed to enter into a “no spray” agreement with the state.

“The state sprayed last summer without notifying us,” Brierley said. “Kathy (Hoey) and I had a confrontation with DOT about it.”

The town will be responsible for roadside mowing in lieu of spraying.

Selectman Brierley won re-election with 66 votes to challenger Betsy McGuire's 52. Residents also elected two members to the Cemetery Committee, two trustees for the library board, and three Planning Board members. All of the positions are three-year terms.

Candidates running for election who spoke were Democratic Rep. Erin Herbig and Joe Greenier and former GOP Rep. Jayne Giles, all running for Senate; Democrat Stanley Paige Zeigler, seeking re-election in House District 96; and Waldo County Sheriff Jeff Trafton, who also is seeking re-election.

First Selectman Bruce Brierley speaks to the town meeting crowd prior to his re-election. At right is moderator Walter Whitcomb. (Photo by: Stephanie Grinnell)
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Stephanie Grinnell
(207) 338-3333 ext. 110
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Stephanie is editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. She previously served as editor of Camden Herald following its return in April 2012.

Stephanie also was editor of VillageSoup's Capital Weekly in Augusta and has nearly a decade of experience in the newspaper business ranging from southern and central Maine to Waldo County.

Outside the office, she enjoys reading, cooking and gardening.

Stephanie lives in Washington with her husband Jeff, four children, a dog named Chewbacca, a rabbit and chickens.

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